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Chain Reactions | DC’s reboot, relaunch and new digital strategy

by  in Comic News Comment

This week DC Comics made headlines and turned heads with its announcement that it would reboot and relaunch the majority of its titles this September. Titles will end, others will begin, DC’s current status quo will be rewritten and undone in a way we probably haven’t seen since Crisis on Infinite Earths or maybe Zero Hour or what have you. They’ve announced the fall will bring:

  • 52 new first issues, starting the last week in August with the launch of Justice League by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee
  • New creative teams, like Grant Morrison writing Superman Fabian Nicieza writing Teen Titans and James Robinson Tony Daniel on Hawkman. Gail Simone and Marc Guggenheim, meanwhile, won’t be writing Birds of Prey or Justice Society of America, respectively.
  • Day-and-date digital release of all the titles.
  • Pants for the women!

Such news brings reactions, of course, and here are just a few pull quotes from around the web … be sure to click through to read them in their entirety:

Tom Foss, Fortress of Soliloquy: “On one hand, I’m impressed that DC would do something this ballsy; gaining new readers means shaking things up and possibly stepping on some of the long-term fans’ toes, and this genre is in desperate need of new readers. On the other hand, this isn’t going to last. Marvel’s learned that the flipside to a new #1 is that you jettison the history and gravitas of a large number (and conversely, that large numbers–even without reason–have some kind of appeal), and Detective Comics is rapidly approaching that #900 milestone that Action Comics just hit, meaning there will be, at most, 19 months of this “renumbering” nonsense (Detective #881 ships in August) before we see some high numbers again.”

Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter: “Overall, this sounds to me like that time when the older, dependable brother in a respected family gets sick of always being the source of stability and flips the fuck out and does something slightly nuts, with the knowledge that ultimately the family money takes care of him even if his crappy decisions goof up a few sets of lives tied into his own. I’ve thought in recent years that publishing entities companies like Marvel and DC should be concentrating on core readerships rather than mass ones, that growing their existing audience by 200 percent was a lot more reasonable a goal than somehow matching the heat and flash and cultural buzz that comes with something like that last Batman movie.”

Peter David, Writer of Stuff: “How do you order DC titles for September? Fifty two #1 issues as the entire line reboots. Do you order it with inflated numbers as a #1 suggests? Do you just order off your previous numbers? Except how do you factor in the possible impact of the simultaneous release of electronic editions? How much business is that going to siphon off? Decades ago, DC came up with the hardcover/softcover near-simultaneous release of some of their most popular titles and it was a spectacular failure. But at least the retailers themselves weren’t threatened.

“Or perhaps we’re just being paranoid. I mean, bookstores as a whole are doing extremely well and aren’t closing right and left, so it’s not as if comic book stores need to worry about their bottom line, right? Right?”

Tim Hodler, The Comics Journal: “I don’t make any claims for myself as an industry analyst, but to my thinking, the “historic renumbering” of DC’s superhero titles (which seems to have garnered the lion’s share of commentary) isn’t nearly as big a deal in the long run as the announcement that DC will be selling all of the titles digitally on the same date as their print publication. It is hard to believe that this isn’t going to be a huge blow to the direct market’s sales. On the other hand, this development has seemed more or less inevitable for a few years now, and while people may not have expected the switch to day-and-date digital to happen this summer, everyone knew it was coming eventually. I guess I’d say to you that if you really like your local comic store, now is the time to frequent it — before it goes the way of your favorite local record shop. But I’d like to be wrong.”

David Uzumeri, ComicsAlliance: “Unfortunately, while DC is unquestionably making a bold risk, it could blow up in their face just as easily as it could drag comics publishing kicking, screaming and tantruming into the twenty-first century. DC isn’t launching a manageable line of high-class titles that they can slowly expand; they are flooding the market with fifty-two new series. Fifty-two. I’m not sure there are fifty-two exemplary creative teams in all of comics. Inevitably, a large number of these books are going to be a complete bust, and the new casual digital fan they’re courting with this initiative won’t have any idea which those will be.”

Mike Sterling, Progressive Ruin: “While I’m curious as a fan about what DC is doing, as a retailer I’m a little worried. Not just about the jumping-off point thing I noted already, but also about how I’m going to explain this to the customers who are going to be caught completely by surprise by DC’s plans. I know it sounds strange, since all of you reading this are plugged into the Web Matrix-style via interface ports at the bases of your skulls, but I have regular customers for whom their exposure to comics news comes from walking into the store and looking at the rack to see what’s new. I can hear them already: “Hey, why is Superman at issue #1 again? And Batman? …And, hey, Legion of Super-Heroes? Again? What’s going on?” Which is fine…that’s part of my job, to explain what new dumb thing a comic publisher has done to confuse and frighten its readership this week.”

Retailer Brian Hibbs, Savage Critics:” …full line-wide day and day is potentially huge because of the ripple impact it might have. It will take very very very few current customers moving channels to have a catastrophic cascade impact along and down the chain. Maybe as little as 3-5%? If we’re not netting more NEW readers (and I DO NOT MEAN “Marvel readers switching loyalty”) (And see above) we’re really running the risk of the entire comics market collapsing in fairly fast order — and I’m including things that aren’t superheroes.”

Matt Maxwell, Highway 62: “And most importantly, what on earth will DC actually do to get people reading comics? You can put out press releases in USA TODAY until you’re as blue in the face as Superman’s now-trunkless swimming suit area, but unless you motivate people to read the comics, that’s just hot air. Are the single chapters going to be created so captivatingly that people will have no choice to read, or will they just be taking up space until the collection? Will the single issues just be random storylines that are driven by reader loyalty to a character until the inevitable crossover when something Might Actually Happen? Because that’s been DC as usual, by and large (sure, there’s exceptions where things are actually happening, but that’s exceptions and not the rule.)

“Will these comics actually appeal to the new audience that they’re hoping for? ‘Cause you can’t just hope for an audience and have it happen. Believe me. Instead of aging the books for an aging audience, will this new incarnation actually appeal to readers who’ve never picked up one of these books before? Because that’s the real challenge. If it’s the same old material (no matter how professionally executed) then nothing will change. It’ll be putting a new costume on an old character. And that always works, right?”

J. Caleb Mozzocco, Everyv Day Is Like Wednesday: “I hope this doesn’t get too bogged down in continuity, and is neither a hard reboot a la Crisis On Infinite Earths or any sort of soft reboot—the DC Universe has been in a more or less constant state of soft reboot since a few years before Infinite Crisis, with various mistakes being sold as the in-story result of Superboy-Prime punching the walls of continuity. The effect has been that DC has kept the drawbacks of tight continuity, while losing its benefits. Rather than wiping the slate clean here, I hope the focus is on making stories accessible, and writing around continuity conundrums where they arise (Which means knowing the comics that came before. Which is pretty damn easy if you have an Internet connection). (From DC’s perspective, a hard reboot bringing about a clean slate can seem appealing, as it’s an easy way to get the Batman franchise back to “normal” after Morrison’s Batman Inc. plan to sweep way things like JMS’s runs on Superman and Wonder Woman, that stupid David Finch Batman book that never shifts, everything they did to Green Arrow and Roy Harper, etc., but it also disincentives readers to read anything published before September 2011, and DC has a gigantic backlog of great comics).”

Don MacPherson, Eye on Comics: “The more puzzling reactions I’ve read online were those from readers. Many have complained that since DC continuity is getting some sort of a reboot (or at least a partial reboot) in the fall, all of the stories unfolding in DC titles now, in recent weeks, and in the months and years that have passed “don’t matter.” Somehow, a retooling of the DC line, its characters and continuity means those stories didn’t happen, that having read them and invested in the adventures of DC’s heroes and villains was time and money wasted.

“Here’s the problem with that argument: those stories never mattered in the first place. They never happened at all. And many people would argue that money spent on those comics was wasted, that there were more important, more valuable and better things for us to have invested in or purchased.”